Highland Park 17, 1999, “Full Volume”


Less than a week ago, I complained in my review of an ex-bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray that the distillery itself doesn’t see fit to give us ex-bourbon Highland Park, one of the true secret pleasures of the single malt whisky world. It was very soon pointed out to me by EricH in the comments that one of the distillery’s most recent releass, Full Volume, is in fact all ex-bourbon whisky. I had actually been aware of the existence of this whisky but, as I noted, its stupid name had led me to believe that it was one more in Highland Park’s unending series of NAS whiskies, and so I’d ignored it. Lo and behold, it turns out to not only have a vintage statement but an age statement as well. It’s a 17 yo put together this year from casks distilled in 1999. And it’s at a respectable 47.2% abv. Of course, it’s also clad in extremely ridiculous packaging (a black bottle, in a box that is meant to resemble a Marshall amp) but having complained incorrectly about the lack of an official ex-bourbon Highland Park, I felt it was only right that I should check out the one that had just been released. And my decision to do that was made easier by the discovery that it’s actually priced quite reasonably—as low as $89 in Minnesota. Not cheap in the abstract, but these days an official 17 yo at a strength above 43% for less than $120 seems like a steal.  Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1991 (Signatory)


On Wednesday I posted a review of a bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray and noted in passing that Highland Park used to be one of my favourite distilleries. I said I’d elaborate soon on why I’m more ambivalent about them now, and here I am, just two days later.

Well, it’s not for any earth-shatteringly surprising reason. Highland Park and I have both changed but they’ve changed more than I have: I’m losing hair but they’ve lost their minds. When I first started drinking single malt whisky, Highland Park put out a limited line of very good whisky at good prices in ugly bottles. In the last 15 years the bottles have got updated but in the process prices have gone up drastically (especially for their 18 yo). Their lineup has gotten more bloated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they increasingly seem to be designing/marketing their whisky with children in mind: an endless series of Viking-themed whiskies (too many to list), black bottles (ditto), boxes shaped like amplifiers (the new Full Volume), this abomination, the list goes on…I know we’re only supposed to care about the whisky in the bottle but it’s got to the point where it’s embarrassing to be seen buying a bottle of Highland Park. I mean, they make mid-late 2000s Bruichladdich’s output seem restrained and thoughtful.  Continue reading

Highland Park 16, 1995 (A.D. Rattray)


Okay, one last ex-bourbon review to make November an all ex-bourbon cask whisky month. Here is what else I have reviewed as part of this unintended, extended series this month: Tomatin 12, 2005, Fettercairn 23, 1993, Glencadam 15, Clynelish 12, 1997, Glen Scotia 1992-2005, Arran 1996-2013, Bowmore 10, 2003, Bladnoch 18, 1992, Aberlour 20, 1990 and Aberlour 17, 1990. That tour has taken me across most of the Scottish mainland and a couple of southern and western islands. For the last stop let’s go north, all the way to Orkney, to what used to be one of my very favourite dstilleries: Highland Park. I’ll go over why I’m far more ambivalent about Highland Park now in a separate post soon. For now, I’ll say only that one of the great pleasures of their whisky is one that the distillery does not give us; and that is the pleasure of bourbon cask Highland Park. It is here that you’ll usually most clearly encounter Highland Park’s peaty character as well as a mineral, oily note, all of which get covered up—for the most part—in the sherry profile of most of the distillery’s official releases. It’s a quality I particularly prize and which I see putting them on a continuum with Clynelish and Springbank/Longrow. I’ve reviewed a few such single casks before and I’m glad to be able to do it again.  Continue reading

Tomatin 12, 2005 (Distillery Only)


After a couple of stops in the eastern Highlands (at Glencadam and Fettercairn) let’s take the bourbon cask train back to the northern Highlands, to Tomatin. Tomatin is the southernmost of the distilleries usually grouped in the northern Highlands—south of Glen Ord, Teaninich, Balblair etc. and quite a bit south of Clynelish and Pulteney. It’s also actually further south than a number of Speyside distilleries. But all of this is neither here nor there.

This is one of my more timely reviews, being of a whisky bottled this June. But it’s still not very useful as it was bottled by hand, by me in the distillery shop—it’s not available for sale outside the distillery (except at auction, I suppose). The shop (my report on which you may remember) had five casks available for filling bottles from in June. They kindly allowed me to get tastes of whatever I was interested in, even though I had not done a tour, and this 12 yo ex-bourbon cask was my favourite. It was my first time filling a bottle at a distillery and I don’t mind telling you it was very exciting. This is my first time drinking it since tasting it at the distillery and I’m interested to see what I make of it now that the excitement is behind me.  Continue reading

Arran 1996-2013, Bourbon Cask #539


My bourbon cask tour of Scotland continues. So far the itinerary has included a couple of stops at Aberlour in the Speyside, at Bladnoch in the Lowlands and at Bowmore on Islay. We’re on another island today: Arran. I’ve not reviewed much Arran on the blog and, indeed, it’s been a while since I’ve had any. This is not a recent release: it’s a single cask from 2013 and I think it might be the oldest Arran I’ve had so far—not that there are very many very old Arrans (I think production only began a year prior in 1995). I think this was one of a few single casks released in the US in 2013—though my memory can rarely be trusted. I’ve not been following the distillery very much and I’m not sure what they’re up to these days or what their general reputation is like. I do know I’ve always enjoyed their 14 yo when I’ve had it (the 10 yo a little bit less). I have also reviewed another single bourbon cask released a few years before this one. If this is as good it’ll be pretty good. Let’s see.  Continue reading

Bowmore 10, 2003 (Whisky-fässle)


After a brief rum break, I am back on the bourbon cask single malt whisky trail. Previous stops have taken in the Speyside with a couple of Aberlours (here and here) and the Lowlands (this Bladnoch). Today I have a malt from Islay. This 10 yo Bowmore was distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2013 by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle. I can’t remember if I’ve reviewed any of their Bowmore casks before but I have reviewed a couple of other bourbon cask Bowmores of similar age and vintage. See, for example, this 10 yo from 2002 bottled by van Wees, and this 11 yo, also from 2002, bottled by Exclusive Malts for K&L. I thought both of those were marred—to different degrees—by a soapy/glycerin note that sometimes pops up in bourbon cask Bowmore (and also in bourbon cask Ben Nevis). I am glad to report that it’s not an issue with this release. I opened the bottle a month and a half ago for one of my local group’s tastings and it went down a treat. I’ve been drinking it down steadily since. Here now is my review.  Continue reading

Hampden 24, 1992, Golden Devil (Rum)


I interrupt the highly untimely reviews of bourbon cask whisky (Aberlour, Aberlour, Bladnoch) to bring you a review of a relatively recently released Jamaican rum. Well, I guess it might be from a bourbon cask too—I confess I’m not very informed as to rum production methods. I can tell you though that this rum is from the Hampden distillery and that Hampden rums are all the rage these days among whisky geeks who are getting or have recently gotten into rum. I’m not sneering at this phenomenon, mind: here I am myself with a review of a Hampden rum despite not knowing very much about rum. I’ve reviewed another Hampden previously: a highly aromatic bruiser of a 6 yo. That one was bottled at 68.5% (!); this one is at a more staid 50%. A more important difference (possibly) may be that these come from different points in the distillery’s ownership history. As to whether this one is as off the charts with the esters as the Habitation Velier bottle, I don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out in a minute.  Continue reading

Bladnoch 18, 1992 (Chieftain’s for K&L)


My last two reviews have been of long-forgotten samples of bourbon cask whiskies released in 2010-2011 and, given how much I enjoyed those Aberlours (here and here), I figured I might as well keep that trend going. Here now is a review of a Bladnoch 18, distilled in 1992 and bottled by Chieftain’s in 2011 for my old friends in California, K&L. This was a more innocent time at K&L: Driscoll’s hype machine had not been cranked up to 13 yet and the hit rate for their cask selections was pretty good. It’s probably the case that the latter was true largely because more quality casks were available to independents then; and it’s also probably the case that the former was true because the latter was true. That is to say, the noise seems to have increased steadily over the years in inverse proportion to quality and value. Anyway, this Bladnoch, distilled before the Armstrong era at Bladnoch (now also ended), was rather good indeed and at $89.99 it was an excellent value. I’d meant to buy a second bottle but never got around to it. Thankfully, I saved 6 ounces from the middle of the bottle for future reference. Even more thankfully, that sample did not go flat in the intervening years. Let’s get to it.  Continue reading

Aberlour 20, 1990 (Signatory)


I was inspired by last week’s Blackadder Aberlour 17, 1990 review to see if I had any other samples lying around of bourbon cask Aberlour and found this 20 yo bottled by Signatory that I received in a swap a few years ago. This will be my third review of a bourbon cask Aberlour from the 1990 vintage (I know it’s a small n but I wonder if there were a bunch of casks from that year that made it to the warehouses of independents for whatever reason). If it’s as good as the other two, I will be very happy. Let’s see if it is.

Aberlour 20, 1990 (56.1%; Signatory; cask 101777; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Starts out malty with toasted cereal. The fruit begins to build behind that pretty quickly: lemon peel, apricot, a hint of peach. With more air there’s some oak (nothing tannic or overbearing). With water it’s less oaky, more fruity.  Continue reading

Aberlour 17, 1990 (Blackadder)


After a recently bottled atypical malt to start the week—the new official, peated Balvenie—here is an atypical malt that was bottled just over 10 years ago. It’s atypical because it’s an Aberlour from an ex-bourbon cask. Other than distillery-only bottlings, Aberlour only release sherried malts. Of course, they mature a fair bit in ex-bourbon but it’s to the independents you have to go to taste that spirit. I’ve previously reviewed an older ex-bourbon Aberlour from Exclusive Malts (I quite liked it). This one is from a bottle purchased before that one and finished before I started the blog. The independent in question here is Blackadder. However, this one was not bottled at cask strength (a bit of an anomaly for them) and had no silly bits of char in the bottle. I’d forgotten that I’d ever saved anything from it and found a large reference sample while rummaging through my shelves tonight for something non-sherried and non-peated. Let’s go back in time. Continue reading

Balvenie 14, 2002, “Peat Week”


Okay, after a run of three low-utility reviews of whiskies from Kilchoman, Glenlivet and Glen Scotia released between 5 and 13 years ago, let’s get all timely with a review of a whisky that is not at all hard to find in the US: the recently arrived Balvenie “Peat Week”. I’ve previously reviewed a 17 yo Balvenie matured in a cask that had previously held peated whisky distilled at Balvnie. (I was not impressed). This one, as I’m sure you know, is an actual peated whisky made at Balvenie. Apparently, since 2002 (or even earlier) Balvenie has been making peated malt one week in the year and this is the first regular release from those runs, apparently limited to 3000 bottles worldwide—how many of those are in the US, I don’t know.

In a time when distilleries replace information on labels with silly names and marketing stories, Balvenie are to be congratulated for putting an age statement and a vintage on this release. Nonetheless, I am tempted to say that they’ve gone a bit too far in the direction of full transparency: my eyes glazed over as I tried to make sense of the small-print chart on the tube (I gave up quickly).  Continue reading

Glenlivet 1977-2004 (Scott’s Selection)


I’ve been threatening this review for a while. This Glenlivet 1977-2004 is the third of three Scott’s Selections bottles that I split last year with Michael K. (of Diving for Pearls), Jordan D. (of Chemistry of the Cocktail) and Florin (Craft Distiller of the Year). I’ve previously reviewed the Auchentoshan 1983 and the Bunnahabhain 1988 we got along with this one—I liked both, the Bunnahabhain more than the Auchentoshan. The Glenlivet I kept hearing iffy things about and that made me reluctant to move it to the front of the review line. But then Michael reviewed it last month and even though he didn’t love it, there was enough intriguing in his notes that made me finally get into it—especially his description of the fruity nose. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get as much fruit off the nose as he did, but—considering I have another four ounces of this—I’m glad to say I liked it anyway. Here are my notes. Continue reading

Kilchoman 2006-2012 (for K&L)


I was recently mock-praised for reviewing something released as recently as a year ago. As even mock-praise makes me uncomfortable, I have in response a review of a whisky released five years ago: a sherry cask Kilchoman bottled for K&L in California.

Kilchoman was not quite new at the time but they weren’t quite as established and didn’t have as much of an identity as they do now. But they were already producing whisky that belied its (young) age. I think the very first Kilchoman I had was a 3 yo bottled for Binny’s in 2010 (I don’t think I reviewed it, but I do have a large reference sample saved…) and it was way better than any 3 yo whisky has any right to be. Most of the ones that I have reviewed have been just a bit older (including another K&L cask, this one ex-bourbon, and a PX cask bottled for WIN in the Netherlands). I’ve generally liked them all. And I can tell you before you get to the review that I liked this one—which was probably distilled at around the same time as that Binny’s ex-bourbon cask a lot. A more detailed accounting follows.  Continue reading

Speyside Region 41, 1975 (Whisky-Fässle)


Okay, after Monday’s Ben Nevis 19, 1996 from Cadenhead, here’s another whisky released in 2016 by an indie bottler. The bottler in this case is the German outfit Whisky-Fässle. The whisky is much older, distilled in 1975 but it’s not said where it was distilled. I haven’t looked around to see if there’s any nudge-nudge, wink-wink out there about the identity. It is said to be a classic 1970s-style fruit bomb which might lead people who bought bottles to hope it’s a Longmorn or Caperdonich. But if it were either, I imagine the bottler would trumpet that. So either a distillery like Glenfarclas which suppresses indie use of its name or a less marketable name. Anyway, there were a number of these 1975 casks released last year, I believe—which suggests a parcel was unearthed somewhere and snapped up by various indies. It’s also curious to see the cask specified as Fino. Granted, I have far less experience of this stuff than many, but I don’t think I’ve seen that level of specificity marked on many casks put away in that period. I was tempted to buy a bottle when it was available, but the price—north of 300 Euros—took quick care of that. I’m glad though to have the opportunity to taste it via a bottle split. Let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading